This chapter mostly just lays out the official boundaries of what land the Israelites are supposed to take. It unfortunately uses a lot of place names that no one really knows where they are in the modern day, but it does, at least, seem to include places like the Golan Heights and the West Bank which, again, is why how you decide to interpret the Bible can be a Big Deal in real life.
My NOAB helpfully points out that these boundaries are roughly those attributed to King David and may actually be a reading those boundaries backwards into time rather than indicating what land the Israelites actually held. But then again, since a full-scale invasion is highly suspect from an archeological viewpoint, it’s hard to know who or where the ancient Israelites “really” were. Were they a nomadic group who migrated and integrated with local tribes? Were they a religio-ethnic identity forged out of other tribes over time in response to occupation by Egypt?
But that doesn’t necessarily matter when this is read as scripture rather than history. It’s about what Israel is supposed to be – controlling a large portion of the Mediterranean Coast, with the land divided up evenly and fairly by lot. The chapter ends with Moses basically forming a committee to figure out how they were going to divide up the land. Lots may have assumed some divine intervention in the rules of chance, but I imagine there might have been quite a lot of debate until things were fair.
Not to keep repeating myself, but the fair distribution of land is repeating concern. I’ve been reading The Great Divergence for my final paper (on the relationship between poverty and child development and how universal preschool could help remedy this), and he notes how, until the late 1800s, “wealth” meant land, not money. I think that’s true of all agrarian, pre-industrial societies. It’s why places like China and America (in Japan) broke up the big feudal land plots. The Dragon Village is a really good book about the attempt to do this fairly in China*, and it may have resembled the process envisioned by the writers here.
And maybe it was a process that happened. As I said, one theory to account for the discrepancy between the archeological and Biblical record is that the oral tradition conflated the migration of Semitic tribes out of Egypt after the fall of the Hyksos Dynasty with the toppling of Egyptian authority in Canaan. After the Egyptians were gone, perhaps there was massive land reform to try to give the now free underclass a chance to make their own living fairly.
The Japanese: sessuru “to border,” kiten “starting point” (v 3), heru “to pass, to go by” (v 4), shamen “slope” (v 11).
*Yes, ironically one of the first things the Community Party in China did was give everyone their own private property, divided equitably by family size. This was a pragmatic and effective way of helping the poor. Later, more ideological minds would decide to take away that property and make everything communal all at once. That was disastrous. Land reform and redistribution of private property are not communism; the absence of private property is.